We just finished Week 17 of the National Lacrosse League and while some questions have been answered, there are still a lot of things up in the air.
Let’s first get into what happened this weekend. First the predictable: Colorado defeated the depleted Toronto Rock 10-5. I thought it was pretty impressive for Toronto (or unimpressive for Colorado who was without star Adam Jones) that the Mammoth only scored 9 goals on Nick Rose (the 10th was an empty netter).
The second game that I felt was rather predictable was New England defeating the Georgia Swarm. After last week’s 16-9 loss to the Bees you knew that Shawn Evans and his teammates would come loaded for bear. The Wolves turned a 9-9 third quarter game into a 21-11 victory.
In Rochester, the Knighthawks played the kind of lacrosse we expected from them this season for 3 quarters. They held Dhane Smith to 1 goal and 2 assists and were leading 8-7. In the fourth quarter, the roof caved in after Buffalo took its first lead of the game. At one point, the Bandits scored 5 straight goals in 4 minutes and despite a flurry of 3 late goals, the Knighthawks were outscored 8-5 in the fourth quarter. And as for shutting down Dhane Smith? He scored 5 points in the 4th and his empty net goal was his 131st point breaking Shawn Evan’s record from last season.
Now, let’s get to the most unpredictable game of the week. The Vancouver Stealth, who must not have heard my declaration that their playoff hopes were dead, came flying out of the gate to take a 7-2 lead over the Saskatchewan Rush. While it did get close, the Stealth played like a composed team for 60 minutes and hung on for a 14-12 victory.
That very impressive win keeps Vancouver’s playoff hopes alive for another weekend, although it will need two tough road wins as well as a loss by the Calgary Roughnecks (who are hosting the Toronto Rock on Friday).
Finally, I want to once again touch on the regular season MVP battle. A few weeks ago I said that there was no question that Dhane Smith should win it. My argument was while Shawn Evans was the reason for New England’s turn around this year, the MVP traditionally goes to the most outstanding player – especially when someone has a season above and beyond the rest of his peers.
At that point it looked as though Smith was going to obliterate Evans’s points record from last season. In the last few games, Smith has slowed down somewhat (20 points in 4 games) and even though he broke the points record Saturday night, there is a pretty good chance that Evans (who has 117 points with 2 games remaining) will finish the season just a handful of points behind Smith (who has 1 game left).
If only we could get these two to go head to head one more time in a meaningful regular season lacrosse game, then we could once and for all determine who should be the 2016 MVP. Thanks schedule makers.
New England and Buffalo meet in Buffalo next Saturday in a game that could determine first place in the East. How excellent is that? So before you cast your votes, let’s see what happens in Buffalo next Saturday.
There are a lot of moves in the Power Rankings. Check it out.
1 (2). Buffalo (12-5). The Bandits broke open a tight game with the Rochester Knighthawks with a fantastic fourth quarter. Until the Knighthawks put on their last minute flurry, the Bandits outscored them 8-2 in the fourth. Buffalo can clinch first place overall (and home floor advantage throughout the playoffs) with a win against New England next weekend. A loss could result in a drop to second place in the East (if New England is able beat Rochester on Sunday). Dhane Smith needs 4 goals in his last game to break Athan Iannucci’s record of 71 goals in a season.
2 (1). Saskatchewan (12-5). Even without Zack Greer in the lineup, it was shocking to see the Saskatchewan Rush fall behind by a score of 6-1 early against the Vancouver Stealth. While they mounted a comeback, the Rush were never able to bring the game to an even score. Next week the Rush travel to Rochester and need a win (along with a Buffalo loss) to clinch first place overall in the NLL.
3. (3). Colorado (11-6). The Mammoth defeated the Toronto Rock 10-5 on Saturday. Even though they were without Adam Jones, the Mammoth must be a little concerned that they have averaged only 7 goals per game in their last four outings. On the other hand, two of those games were against Saskatchewan and Colorado must be pleased that they held a team to just 5 goals – even if Toronto is playing with a sparse lineup. Next week Colorado will have its hands full as it meetsa Vancouver team (with a full lineup) on a two game winning streak and playing for their playoff lives.
4. (4). New England (10-6). The New England Black Wolves were 4-14 last season and after avenging last week’s 16-9 loss to Georgia with a 21-11 victory, the Wolves have a shot at first place in their own hands. If New England is able to defeat Buffalo and Rochester next week, it will finish the season in first place.
5. (6) Calgary (7-10). Even though Calgary had the weekend off, you could not fault the Roughnecks if they thought they would have their playoff tickets punched while they sat back and watched Vancouver host Saskatchewan. Now Calgary will approach next Friday’s home game against the Toronto Rock with a great sense of urgency because the way Vancouver has played the last two weekends it would be foolish to expect Vancouver to give anything to the Roughnecks. Coach Malawsky and the Calgary coaching staff is wise enough not to take the Toronto Rock lightly as Toronto would like nothing better than to end its season on a positive note.
6. (5). Georgia (7-10). Georgia had a disastrous finish to its game against the New England Black Wolves. The score was 9-9 six minutes into the third quarter. From that point on Georgia was outscored 12-2 and lost by a final of 21-11. The good news for Georgia is that Rochester was just as bad late in its game against Buffalo and Georgia is still in the driver’s seat for the last playoff spot. Next week, Georgia will play Vancouver, which will either be playing its biggest game of the season or be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. A Georgia win or a Rochester loss (to either Saskatchewan or New England) will lock up a playoff spot for the Swarm.
7. (9) Vancouver (5-11). The Stealth played a tremendous game in defeating the Saskatchewan Stealth 14-12 and keep their slim playoff hopes alive. With Logan Schuss (4 goals, 4 assists), Garrett Billings (1 and 5), and Rory Smith back in the lineup, I’m convinced that this team is capable of winning its last two games. However, to squeeze into the last playoff spot, it also needs Calgary to lose to Toronto on Friday night. Regardless of what Calgary does, you can bet that coach Batley and his staff will approach Friday’s game in Denver as if it were a playoff championship. If things go Vancouver’s way on Friday then I can’t wait to watch Saturday’s game in Georgia.
8. (7). Rochester (6-10). After playing three solid quarters, the Rochester Knighthawks collapsed in the fourth to lose their 5th consecutive game by a score of 15-13 to the Buffalo Bandits who swept the season series three games to nothing. To make the playoffs, Rochester has to defeat Saskatchewan and New England and Georgia has to lose to Vancouver.
9. (8) Toronto Rock (5-12). Considering what’s left in their lineup, the Toronto Rock played a pretty decent game in Colorado. The Rock actually outshot the Mammoth 53-45 but they lost the game 10-5. Goaltender Nick Rose allowed only nine goals and has the NLL’s third best GAA and save percentage. Toronto finishes a very disappointing season in Calgary next Friday and there is no question that Nick Rose and whoever is healthy enough to suit up will give it their all to end the season with a win.